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The Grammy nominee says she's no size 2 – and that's all the better for her music

By Eileen Finan
Updated January 28, 2015 01:30 PM
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Credit: Curtis Hilbun/AFF-USA

Brandy Clark‘s career in Nashville began behind the scenes as a songwriter, but with two Grammy nominations and an opening slot on Alan Jackson‘s tour, she’s had to adjust to life in the spotlight. And for someone who prefers ball caps to ball gowns, that hasn’t been easy, she admits.

“Just like all women,” Clark tells PEOPLE, “I wish I was smaller. There are things about my face I’d change. But like all women I do the best I can.” The difference now, she says, “is that you have people in your ear saying, ‘OK, you ought to juice fast!’ And I have! I will do that before camera stuff.”

That includes the Grammy Awards, airing Feb. 8 on CBS, where she’s up for Best Country Album as well as the all-genre category of Best New Artist. But, she adds, “I’m realistic. I try to be healthy. I’m never going to be skinny. It’s not in my make-up. I can just be the best me.”

In fact, she says being “just in the middle” is a perfect place for a songwriter to be. “My music is for real women and it’s about real women and I am a real woman,” the “Stripes” singer says. “And I think that’s helpful because I’m not threatening. They think, ‘She looks like us.'”

Despite Clark’s down-to-earth attitude, her journey to success (shared in the latest issue of PEOPLE) is far from ordinary. Raised in the tiny logging town of Morton, Washington, she moved to Nashville in 1998 and joined a close circle of fellow songwriters who helped her accept her own identity as a gay woman. “It was a tough thing for me,” she says. “I was probably 30 before I really was like, ‘OK, I’m gay. Yup. This is me.'”

She made a name for herself by penning hits like “Mama’s Broken Heart” for Miranda Lambert before she was offered her own deal when she was 35. Since then, she’s wowed critics with her debut, 12 Stories, but at 39, Clark knows she’s a decade-plus older than most “new” artists. Success, however, has come at just the right time, she says.

“If I had gotten this chance at 25, I would have been anybody that somebody wanted, and it wouldn’t have worked. There’s no way I would have been openly gay. And I wouldn’t have written these songs,” she says. “I feel lucky that it happened now.”

For more on Clark, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE.